Unbinding Your Heart: A Converted Community – sermon on Acts 2:14, 32-39

March 13, 2022 – Lent 2C

The story of Pentecost boggles our minds to this day. In Acts 2, we read about how the Holy Spirit comes and touches all of the disciples. They suddenly are able to speak in different languages. Many people, 3000 the text says, get baptized and start following Jesus that day.

The miraculous stuff of this story steals the show. It’s usually what we focus on when we think of Pentecost. But there’s something more ordinary going on that we need to see. In the midst of all the hubbub, in the middle of the bold signs of God’s presence, something is quietly happening that is essential to the story.

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, 
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Acts 2:14, 32-39

The wind, the flames, the speaking in tongues bewilder the crowds gathered. Wouldn’t they bewilder you? This stuff might scare us more than thrill us. Peter overhears some of the crowd talking. He realizes that they don’t understand what is happening.

So he stands up to explain. The story of Pentecost is no longer remarkable to those of us who have grown up in the church because we have read this text so many times. But there is something extraordinary happening here. Have you ever wondered: how could Peter stand there and preach like that after what he had just done, barely 50 days ago? What nerve! What gall!

You might remember that just before Jesus was killed, Peter promised to stick with Jesus through thick and thin. But as soon as Jesus was arrested, Peter told people he didn’t even know Jesus! Then Peter totally abandoned Jesus at the cross. In John’s gospel, Jesus restores Peter by telling him to feed his sheep. But that is not the way Luke tells the story. Luke ends his gospel with no reinstatement of Peter. There is no specific moment of forgiveness between him & Jesus. So in the gospel of Luke the question hangs in the air: how will Peter respond to Christ’s death and resurrection? What will Peter do now that the crucifixion is over and Christ has been raised?

In Unbinding Your Heart, Martha Grace Reese introduces us to the “Trinity of Relationships.”

After studying 150 mainline churches that are really alive and growing, she discovered something. All of these vibrant churches had a set of three relationships that were very real and healthy: (1) relationships with God (2) relationships with people outside the church, and (3) relationships with each other. These three relationships are reflected in our Year of REACH – reaching up to God, out to our community, and toward one another in love.

When Peter stands up to explain things to the crowd, something remarkable is happening in the Trinity of Relationships in his life. We’ll briefly talk about the first two relationships. Then I want to focus on the third.

First, something remarkable happened in Peter’s relationship with God. Imagine being Peter, knowing how miserably you had failed Jesus. When Pentecost Day dawns, and the Holy Spirit comes upon all of the believers, Peter is included. He receives the power of the Spirit of the Risen Christ. Imagine his relief! Imagine his joy at the new start he receives from God!

The denial . . .
The abandonment . . .

The broken promises . . .
they are all water under the bridge in Peter’s relationship with God. They are washed away, removed as far as the East from the West. Peter accepts the clean slate God gives him. How can Peter stand up and preach? He is living out his forgiveness. He is bearing the fruit of a spiritual reality. This is what a person freed by God’s love looks like:

Standing boldly, Proclaiming freely,

Sharing generously The love of God.

Peter is experiencing a whole new, fresh start given to him by God.

Literally, the last words we hear Peter say in Luke 23 are, “I do not know who Jesus is.” But the words Peter says now are: “Let me tell you who Jesus is!” At Pentecost, something remarkable happened in Peter’s relationship with God. It has been renewed. He is living in bold joy because of the forgiveness he’s received. We can only stand up and speak when we hear confusion in someone else’s life, if our own relationship with God is renewed every day, just like this, by accepting God’s forgiveness.

Second, something remarkable happened in Peter’s relationship with people outside the circle of believers. Peter is deeply moved by these people who don’t know that God has sent Jesus for them. Verse 40 says Peter “pleaded with them.” When you’ve received forgiveness like Peter, when you’ve experienced that kind of relief, you want to share it. This won’t be the last time Peter is compelled to share the gospel. In a couple of chapters, he gets in real trouble by taking the news of Jesus to a non-Jew! Pentecost catapults Peter into no-holds-barred compassion for people who don’t know Christ.

Third, something remarkable is happening to Peter’s relationships with his fellow disciples. This is where I want to focus with you. When Peter does stand, notice Peter does not stand alone. The second chapter of Acts, the fourteenth verse says: “Then Peter stood up with the eleven and addressed the crowd.” When he rises to speak the other disciples get up to stand with him. They stand together. Yes, the other disciples know that Peter has a big mouth that gets him into trouble. They know that Peter promised Jesus more than he could deliver. They know that Peter bragged about how faithful he would be and then failed. But they also know their own sins against Jesus. They could have just pointed the finger at Peter. They could have said, “Here he goes again, talking the big talk.” But they didn’t. They knew that if they pointed one finger at Peter, three more fingers were pointing back at them. In humility, they supported him by standing alongside him.

These disciples are a vibrant picture of forgiven people forgiving each other. They are tangible evidence of the reality of the mercy of God.

They are the most believable witness to the grace of Jesus Christ.

Together, they are a community of the redeemed.

All of the aspects of the Trinity of Relationships are essential for us to grow us a church. We need real and vibrant relationships with God, with people outside the church, and with each other. But right now I want to ask you about our relationships with each other.

Are we real with each other?
Are we forgiving each other?

Are we standing with each other, as Peter and the disciples stood together?

I wonder what people in Willmar see when they look at this community of believers, when they look at our church? Do they see a community of redemption, a place where people are genuinely merciful to and supportive of one another?

In your bulletin is a drawing of the “Trinity of Relationships.”

Please consider prayerfully which of these three essential relationships needs your attention this week. Let’s take a moment right now. This is just between you and God. Let me strongly encourage you to especially consider the relationships you have with other church members. Is there is something that is not right in your relationship with someone here? Be real with God and with yourself about the need for reconciliation. Simply ask God, “Where do you want to work in my relationships?” Take a deep, gentle breath. Exhale slowly. Close your eyes. Just listen for a moment. Ask God for help to make things right again. [Pause for one minute]

Has God put someone on your heart in our church? At the Last Supper, Jesus knelt to wash his disciples’ feet. It was an act of love and service. Maybe today you could reach out to someone in an act of service and love. Perform a task that might seem menial, but shows that person you want to begin anew in a relationship that needs a fresh start. Next to the prayer wall today is a pitcher, a basin, and a stack of towels. Perhaps you could pour water over someone’s hands, then dry them with a towel, to show your desire to be reconciled. Maybe that’s too much to ask of you today. Perhaps you simply need to find that person after worship, go to them, and say, “I want things to be right between us.”

There was a church that had been growing rapidly. They had been adding several members every month but that suddenly stopped. Visitors came but they wouldn’t join. The pastor finally asked a visitor to tell him what was keeping them from becoming a part of the church. They confessed, “We like the church, but . . . it’s cold!” And they were right.

The church members talked about being a friendly church, but their crossed arms and the way they avoided making eye contact said otherwise. Visitors didn’t have to know all the details. They could sense people were tense. They could tell members were angry with each other. They could feel that forgiveness was being withheld. Members’ energy was not going to new people because members were wrapped up in the conflict of the church.

The pastor realized his own lack of forgiveness was contributing to the big chill. He and another leader in the church had been in a conflict that was causing ill feelings. It was one of those heads-butting, arms-crossed tensions. The pastor mustered his courage, prayed, and went to see the person he’d been fighting with. The pastor did his part in resolving the issue. He apologized for the way he’d been acting. He asked for forgiveness. In the following weeks, 2 people joined the church, and 4 more the next week. The visitors who had complained about the coldness of the church were two of the new members. When the pastor asked why they decided to join after all, they said, “It felt right all of a sudden.” When we stand in God’s love, when we stand together, and when we stand for people who need to know Jesus Christ, it’s Pentecost all over again. It IS right all of a sudden. It is all that is required, and everything that is needed, for the Spirit to work through us.

This sermon is based on a sermon by Rev. Dawn Weaks, as provided through the gracenet.info website. These sermons are licensed for use, in whole or in part, by purchasers of Unbinding Your Church.

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